The battle between the forces of the elite European-led Mardi Gras and the working class African-led Camboulay is not just a Carnival battle—it is a metaphor for the battle for the nation’s developmental direction and soul. Our crises of crime, institutional collapse, loss of identity and direction are because our leaders have consistently negated the authentic, the working-class, the indigenous, and the “roots”—choosing instead the foreign, plastic and elite. We’ve become a Mardi Gras people—fake, soul-less, status- and trinket-obsessed, surface and empty. We confront nothing and wait until the rot overwhelms. We’ve abandoned our own star. The Carnival, the culture and the country are all collapsing because of these choices…
From the 1930s, with the first experiments to create pan, to 1956, with the world’s first platinum album, Calypso, by Harry Belafonte, this country went through an extraordinary period of transformation. Our folk culture evolved into classical forms with genius levels of execution, eventually becoming global. During this Golden Age, hundreds of heroic nationals impacted every corner of the globe in sports, politics, the arts, liberation movements and science. Pan, mas and calypso emerged in their modern forms spawning 300 Trini-carnivals worldwide.
OUR PROBLEM is that we’ve never understood our majesty. Never understood how large our cultural footprint is in the world. Never internalised the hundreds of heroes we’ve uttered into the universal pantheon. Never understood the power of the things we created. Never understood the billions just awaiting our reaping—if only we embraced who we are… It is not just Trinidad’s Carnival that’s falling. It is all 300 we’ve spawned…And it is not Carnival alone that falls—but all T&T’s cultural forms…
For 12 years the Artists Coalition (ACTT) has led battles against four successive administrations to get the commonsense facilitating systems for culture in place. These are systems the rest of the world put in place since World War II. ACTT inherited the struggle from two generations before us. Pioneers like Beryl McBurnie and Charles Applewhaite died without seeing it. Warriors like James Lee Wah threw their hands up in disgust at the paralysis…Every single political administration since Independence has refused to do the right thing. Now we’re paying the price in every facet of our life.
Every single collapse we are witnessing in the Carnival is related to generational collapse— to what happens when you fail to build institutions to honour your legacy, and manage the succession of traditions and knowledge-systems from one generation to another. We are thus always re-inventing the wheel, always victim to every invader, conman and gimmick…And have less authentic knowledge each year to create with…Our tragedy may be that our colonial rulers cared more about our landscape and culture than our post Independence politicians… Read the rest of this entry
The critical question we must ask is this: how does Trinidad and Tobago continue the Gifts of our Golden Age long after the conditions on the ground that created the Golden Age no longer exist?
Revolutionary surgery is required. By now, it is clear to all but the blind that something is dangerously wrong with the Carnival—and that it resembles terminal decline. This is not habitual complaining, this is a diagnosis rooted in identifying traits in cultures and civilisations in decline. Why empires fall. T&T’s arts and culture—and Carnival in particular—exhibit many of these traits.
I trust that all those who thought Carnival was a secular festival and “just an event” that simply needs to be “planned better” so you could just change elements, now realise how wrong they are after the wreckage that was this year’s Dimanche Gras. This thinking has only led us to increasingly dizzying levels of disaster. Let’s get it clear: Carnival is not secular. It’s a constellation of sacred rituals that have lineage in several ethnic tribal memories. These rituals merged in a beautiful dance to make this thing we call Carnival. Together these rituals represent “we the people” attempting to make this country a home. Why else do more than 150,000 people of a population of 1.3 million suddenly change their behaviour and launch off annually in a series of ritual choreographies— most of which earn no financial profit—to manifest tens of thousands of works of art, most which will be discarded after one day of use? Read the rest of this entry